Healthy Hacking: DIY Supine Workstation

A parody of the March of Progress, illustrating degradation of working posture since the agricultural revolution

Breaks, Posture, and Variation

First, don’t spend unbroken consecutive hours with any device. No matter how deep into that dungeon you are or how close you are to fixing that bug, your body requires regular breaks. I tend to practice the “pomodoro technique.” This prescribes that every twenty minutes, you stop what you’re doing, get away from your workstation, and walk around. Do some stretching, breathing. Take in your surroundings. Talk to a colleague or neighbor. Get your body and conscious mind away from the problem at hand. After five or ten minutes, return to your station and resume. This is effective at preventing short term fatigue and long term injury. I find that it also has the tendency to boost my productivity due to the side effects of increased blood flow and mental revitalization, not to mention social/project benefits of brief chats with coworkers.

Credit: ratatype.com
User (me!) working comfortably in supine position

Setup

I experiment with different products but am currently using the following in my supine workstation:

Equipment (from top left): Tryone Gooseneck Tablet Stand, Kinesis Freestyle 2 Keyboard with Ascent Accessory, Velcro cable tie role, USB Lightning cable, iPad Pro, Apple Magic Trackpad, MacBook Pro, Desk Jockey neck cushion, InteVision support pillow
A DIY supine workstation
  • I upgraded the control board to allow left space key to be mapped independently; Kinesis provided this mod for free via mail. I use the left space as Command and keep my left thumb anchored on it.
  • I applied nail polish dots on certain keycaps for additional tactile anchoring: Left Ctrl, Left Space (thumb anchor), ~, F, J, ].
  • I remapped various keys using Karabiner-Elements key mapping software. For example, Caps Lack to Delete and Left-Ctrl I/J/K/L to arrow keys (aka “diamond cursor”).
Custom keyboard settings in OSX Preferences and Karabiner-Elements
Duet Display configuration for iPad desktop extension

Issues to Address

Although I’ve found that the addition of the supine option has improved my ability to work for long hours, there are a few downsides:

  • My elbows can become fatigued due to pressure from the mattress. Sometimes I will shift to either side of the bed, allowing an elbow to fall over the edge into a bent position. Unfortunately, this has a tendency to cause shoulder soreness.
  • There is a slight delay (~20ms) in mouse movement on the iPad via the Duet software. This may be improved with newer hardware and/or software configuration.
  • It is physically challenging to assume and extricate oneself from this supine workstation. The space is tight and positioning each hardware element requires precise adjustments every time the user lies back down.
  • Joining video conferences while lying down can be socially awkward in business situations, regardless of camera perspective. I recommend going one of two ways: you can “own it,” using it as a talking point to break the ice, or use meetings as opportunities to relinquish the supine workstation and try another position for a while. I often prefer to attend video conferences in standing position, consciously working on my posture in the process.

In the Future…

The next improvement I’d like to explore is elevating the keyboards up so that my elbows are not touching the mattress. This will require more substantial hardware due to the weight of the keyboards. Perhaps an arch is called for! Computer, arch. Computer…?

The mighty arch

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